Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 6 (2006) - Review

Peter W. Flint and Patrick D. Miller, eds., with the assistance of A. Brunell and R. Roberts, The Book of Psalms: Composition and Reception (Vetus Testamentum Supplements, 99; Formation and Interpretation of Old Testament Literature, 4; Leiden/Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005). Pp. xx + 680. Cloth, EU€179.00, US$241.00. ISBN: 90 04 13642 8.

This collection of essays on the book of Psalms is the most recent instalment in the “Formation and Interpretation of Old Testament Literature” series produced by Brill. This is a substantial volume—not only in terms of its sheer size (almost 700 pages), but also in terms of the incredible breath and diversity of its contents. Its twenty-seven essays—the majority written by internationally recognized scholars—cover a significant amount of ground and bring a whole host of different methodological approaches to questions surrounding the composition and reception of the Psalter.

Like the Masoretic book of Psalms, this volume is divided into five major sections. The first part, “General Topics,” follows the brief introduction to the volume by the editors (“Introduction And Overview of Psalms Scholarship in this Volume,” pp. 1-8), and comprises of two essays: Klaus Koch examines the ritual background of the royal psalms, with particular attention to Psalm 89 and related texts (“Königspsalmen und ihr Rituellehintergrund; Erwägungen zu Ps 89,20-38 und Ps 20 und ihren Vorstufen,” pp. 9-52; previously published as “Rituelle Bezüge in den Königspsalmen?” in Ritual und Poesie [E. Zenger, ed.; HBS 18; Fribourg: Herder, 2003], pp. 211-49), while Rolf Rendtorff provides a profile of the image of David from the psalms as both messianic king and exemplary sufferer (“The Psalms of David: David in the Psalms,” pp.53-64).

The second section is made up of twelve rather diverse essays that provide commentary or interpretation of specific psalms. Adele Berlin heads up this section with an investigation of the theme of exile and return in select psalms (“Psalms and the Literature of Exile: Psalms 137, 44, 69, and 78,” pp. 65-86), followed by David Noel Freedman and David Miano's examination of several biblical poems that correspond to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet but do not follow its sequence (“Non-Acrostic Alphabetic Psalms,” pp. 87-96). In a more general essay, J. J. M. Roberts defends a modified version of Mowinckel's autumn festival as offering the best explanation for the ritual background of the enthronement psalms (“Mowinckel's Enthronement Festival: A Review,” pp. 97-115). Beat Weber then examines the marked shifts (“Stimmungsumschwung”) between complaints, requests, and expressions of confidence found in many lament psalms. These alternations, he argues, are not in response to an oracle of salvation or a superficial change in mood, but rather a renewal of trust (“Zum sogenannten “Stimmungsumschwung” in Psalm 13,” pp. 116-38). Next, Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford questions the relation of Psalm 22 to its immediate context and argues that through a variety of connections Psalms 22, 23, and 24 together form a “powerful statement of trust in the Lord” (“An Intertextual Reading of Psalms 22, 23, and 24,” pp. 139-52). The next four essays examine individual psalms: Dennis Pardee offers a meticulous analysis of Psalm 29 and its parallels with a representative Ugaritic text, RS 2.[008] + vii 14-52 (“On Psalm 29: Structure and Meaning,” pp. 153-83); John S. Kselman highlights a case of deliberate ambiguity in the refrain in Psalm 59 (“Double Entendre in Psalm 59,” pp. 184-89); Richard J. Clifford, S.J., argues that Psalm 90 is best understood as a communal lament (“Psalm 90: Wisdom Meditation or Communal Lament?”, 190-205); and Michael L. Barré argues that Psalm 101 was a Judahite coronation hymn originally focused on the moral instruction of royal advisors (“The Shifting Focus of Psalm 101,” pp. 206-23). This section is rounded off by three additional essays. Sung-Hun Lee proposes the expressions of assurance in the laments is based on petitioner's confidence in God's covenant חֶסֶד (“Lament and the Joy of Salvation in the Lament Psalms,” pp. 224-47). Then, using Psalms 15 and 24 as a baseline, Craig C. Broyles examines a number of psalms (Psalms 5, 26, 28, 36, and 52) and concludes that even though they are different form-critically, they share a common function as temple entry liturgies (“Psalms Concerning the Liturgies of Temple Entry,” pp. 248-87). Finally, James W. Watts summarizes recent research on inset hymns in Hebrew narrative and argues that they help mould the literature for liturgical appropriation (“Biblical Psalms Outside the Psalter,” pp. 288-309).

The third section of the volume contains six essays that explore different facets of the shape and shaping of the Psalter, representing both North American and European scholarship. Harry P. Nasuti introduces this section with an excellent essay exploring the significance of the ordering and contents of the Psalter (“The Interpretive Significance of Sequence and Selection in the Book of Psalms,” pp. 311-39), while J. Clinton McCann, Jr. (“The Shape of Book I of the Psalter and the Shape of Human Happiness,” pp. 340-48) and Michael Goulder (“The Social Setting of Book II of the Psalter,” pp. 349-67) illustrate some of the different ways psalm sequence may be interpreted. McCann's investigation is a synchronic examination of the sequence and function of the beatitudes in Psalms 1-41 highlighting the pursuit of human happiness through obedience to God's word and concern for the poor. Goulder, in contrast, attempts to uncover the liturgical and social background of Psalms 42-72 though an analysis of their order; he contends an original Korahite collection (42-49) was combined with a Davidic collection (51-72) and used in the Jerusalem liturgy for Sukkot. Next, Klaus D. Seybold employs somewhat similar methodology to reconstruct the history of the fourth Davidic collection during the second Temple period (“Zur Geschichte des vierten Davidpsalters (Pss 138-145),” pp. 368-90). The final two essays of this section focus on the significance of the royal psalms for understanding the editing of the Psalter. Gerald H. Wilson provides a brief update to his notion that the royal psalms were employed editorially at the seams of the previous collections of psalms (“King, Messiah, and the Reign of God: Revisiting the Royal Psalms and the Shape of the Psalter,” pp. 391-406); while Erich Zenger examines how the mythic undertones of Psalm 29 are provided a concrete interpretation in the context of Psalms 28 and 30, as well as its connections with the “Yahweh is king” Psalms 93-100 (“Theophanien des Königsgottes JHWH: Transformationen von Psalm 29 in den Teilkompositionen Ps 28-30 und Ps 93-100,” pp. 407-42).

The fourth section includes a variety of essays on the textual history and reception of the book of Psalms in Judaism and Christianity. Albert Pietersma begins this division with a programmatic essay looking at the different levels of interpretation found in a translation, illustrating them with reference to the superscriptions in the LXX Psalms (“Septuagintal Exegesis and the Superscriptions of the Greek Psalter,” pp. 443-75). Next, Moshe Bernstein highlights the value of the Targums for understanding the Psalms. While he concludes that they have limited text-critical value, he shows how they provide insight into how the Psalms were interpreted and “historicized” (“A Jewish Reading of Psalms: Some Observations on the Method of the Aramaic Targum,” pp. 476-504). The next two essays examine the significance of the Syriac traditions for the textual history of the book of Psalms. Robert J. V. Hiebert provides a general survey and some specific illustrations of textual relationships (“The Place of the Syriac Versions in the Textual History of the Psalter,” pp. 505-36), while Harry F. Van Rooy expands his discussion to include Syriac commentaries and apocryphal psalms (“The Psalms in Early Syriac Tradition,” pp. 537-50). The final contribution to this section comes from Craig A. Evans. He examines prophetic interpretation of the numerous quotations and allusions to the psalms in the New Testament, with special focus on how they contribute to the presentation of Jesus in the gospels (“Praise and Prophecy in the Psalter and in the New Testament,” pp. 551-79).

The fifth and last section of this volume contains two essays on the theology of the book of Psalms. Walter Brueggemann explores the dialectic between the incommensurability and mutuality of the God of the Psalter as seen especially through the laments (“The Psalms in Theological Use: On Incommensurability and Mutuality,” pp. 581-602), while Erhard S. Gerstenberger, in an insightful essay, examines how the different life settings reflected in the psalms contribute to the diversity of theological concepts within the Psalter (“Theologies in the Book of Psalms,” pp. 603-25).

The volume concludes with five helpful indices: Scripture, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Other Ancient Writings, and Modern Authors (the cumulative bibliography noted on the dust jacket evidently never materialized; each chapter includes its own select bibliography).

What becomes apparent from this cross-section of essays is that psalms scholarship tends to be far more eclectic in its method than other areas of biblical studies. Most of the essays bring together a combination of poetic, form-critical, contextual, intertextual, and canonical approaches. This move bodes well for the future of psalms scholarship.

In a volume of this magnitude it perhaps goes without saying that some essays will be better than others. While this is definitely the case with this collection (I will let the reader judge which are the better essays), my biggest criticism of the volume concerns what is not included more than what is. I personally do not understand how can a volume on the composition and reception of the Psalter not include a chapter devoted to the significance of the so-called Qumran Psalms Scroll (11QPs-a). This lacuna is all the more obvious considering that it contains not one, but two (albeit excellent) chapters on the Psalms in the Syriac tradition and that one of the editors of the volume is one of the most prolific scholars on the psalms manuscripts from Qumran, i.e., Peter Flint.

All criticisms aside, this volume is a truly valuable contribution to the study of the book of Psalms. As such, it is mandatory reading for psalm scholars and belongs in the holdings of all research libraries.

Tyler F. Williams, Taylor University College, Edmonton, Alberta